I searched on google, and couldn't find a page for Havergal Brian on talkclassical, he has almost certainly been discussed here at some point, but I'd like to make a new thread for him.
I haven't braved the hulking Gothic symphony, but I've heard symphonies 17 and 32, they grow on you, they have a unique and interesting craft to them. I don't know if they are great works, but I appreciate them for their succinctness and unique style.
This was posted a while ago in an Amazon group about Havergal Brian. Apparently the poster is very familiar with Brian's corpus. It has some interesting observations:
His symphonies are rugged excursions, lyrical, dense, convoluted, uncompromising like walking, traversing in the primordial Scottish cliffs,with copious storms along the coast; very impacted-like harmonies as well, not modern in the sense we know. British music in the 20th Century kind of vaulted over the 12-Tone trajectory of modernity. There is always a deep connection to lyricism in British music, in all various shapes and transmogrifications; it's a way of developing and harboring a _humanism_, (which the Brits thought was lost in the self-indulgent nihilistic French, German modernity, like a void) was created and nourished, celebrated. Recall that Nietzsche and Heidegger were early formative generative influences on the French, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida. Then in the arts, the Theatre of the Absurd, Artaud,
Ionesco, Rene Char, Boulez in music; (Samuel Beckett as well. He was an exile living in France). Those British composers who wish to entertain such "negativisms"to grapple with evil, the irrational, live as exiles from the Queen's Plot (England), as Brian Ferenyhough, George Benjamin (a student of Messiaen). Others prefer the coast of England for nourishment, never the city, as Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Benjamin Britten, John Taverner, and Brian at times.
I recall for the premiere of Birtwistle's "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" there were placards out front demonstrations, at Covent Garden, "Down with Modernity!"(exclamation point) "Modern music is a form of pornography."
His music is difficult to follow. Ideas don't always roll off together smoothly from the other. The linear progressions of motives seem to contradict the discourse intentionally. That is how this music creates tension, through linear juxtaposition, rather than pitting harmonies against each other like Mahler. You somehow can always find the thread in Mahler; he was more predictable in the best sense. This is why these post-romantic Symphonies only grow in size and structure. It's their fate to grow, not diminish or fragmentize; and this long hard edge is like a stasis, music frozen.
There is the modernity conception at work in Brian's aesthetic, for this music is still post-romantic and a new reading of romanticism. Again, the metaphor to a musical "boulder" is pertinent; Brian's Symphonies are difficult to perform to keep all this impactedness separated and clear. I've heard some pretty gloriously intoxicated "mud" in some recordings. Oliver Knussen, and George Benjamin, Arthur Tamayo, would be incredible conductors for this music, bringing the clear approach.
I came to Brian's music fairly slowly and cautiously and it took some time for me to assimilate all the aspects of this fascinating composer and man. his symphonies can be tricky to get to grips with and I agree to some extent with above post in that greater clarity and a really skilled and committed conductor is needed to bring out the best in these works due to the often very dense textures. The recordings so far are always on the cautious side especially in tempi. There are other plenty of other works outside of the symphonies, a number of which have been recorded to explore and perhaps build up a more substantial picture of the composer.
there was a very interesting programme broadcast on Sky Arts recently entitled "The Curse of the Gothic Symphony" about the challenges of putting on a performance in Brisbane. An enjoyable introduction
Yeah, I saw that show a few months back. Havergal Brian was one of the first "modern" composers who wrote music in the 20th century that I instantly bonded with. I first heard Brian on my local PBS Public Radio probably 15 years ago and went out and bought every recording available and several that were out of print.
It's funny seeing this thread for the first time and it was kind of remarked that he's kind of difficult to follow or bond with right off the bat, but I had no issue with him at all. I love everything I've heard, but, at the same time the other modern composers that are more in the 12 tone realm, I can't follow at all.
it seems as if lots of people try to warn the newcomer away from his music by suggesting he is difficult to engage with, but I don't find so at all. Yes, it is a trifle unusual in places but it is well worth having a dabble with his work, I think ..... at least once in a while.
I love the Gothic, and I've enjoyed some of his others. His style isn't at all "difficult" - I have no idea where that cames from ( if he's difficult, then so are Holst and Bax! )
The Gothic sounds like it will be some huge dense undertaking, but while listening, it's really not. Brian rarely spends more than a few minutes on the same texture or theme... if anything, I could see someone being put off by the comparative brevity of each section, versus composers who "linger" more, like Brahms... or for that matter, Vaughan Williams, one of Brian's contemporary symphonists.